MH nonprofit ABAR needs to raise funds

Julianne Schuman gets ready to give a horse a tasty treat at Alma Bonita Animal Rescue. Photo by Nolan Lyle

By Nolan Lyle

Photo by Nolan Lyle

Alma Bonita Animal Rescue not only helps animals, it also helps humans.

The nonprofit recently marked five years since it opened on 40 acres at the top of a hill west of Uvas Valley. Several years later, it moved to a secluded canyon nearby where it now provides more than 80 farm animals a happy sanctuary through the kind hearts of Sheila and Micheal Murphy.

On 15 acres, they take care of 19 goats, five sheep, three alpacas, seven donkeys, two ponies, three horses, one mini-mule, two cattle, four pigs, 12 chickens, eight ducks, one bunny, one peahen, three turkeys, four dogs, three barn cats (with four more coming), and four house cats.

The new location at the end of Little Uvas Road gives them much more usable room to hold all their furry and feathered friends. The April 27 anniversary event is one of many the Murphy’s and a small army of volunteers hold to outreach to the community and share the good work they do with residents of the South Valley.

Julianne Schuman, the 8-year-old granddaughter of Sheila, enjoys her daily life helping out on the rustic property. She likes putting the animals away and feeding them. For young people like her, it’s not difficult to understand how the amazing work being done at ABAR is benefiting animals.

“They have a nice and safe home, and get treated correctly,” the girl said.

The animals’ lives have been greatly improved since being taken in by ABAR. Many were abandoned or mistreated before coming to the sanctuary.

“They’re happy here. They like their life here,” Julianne said. “We’re looking to build their life in a happy place, where they’re loved and cared for, eating a lot of carrots and getting petted.”

Her father, Richard Schuman, also helps on the property and thinks the farm critters are more content in the new space, which is less windy and muddy compared to the first location.

“It opens up a lot more activity for the animals,” he said. “Animals seem to be able to roam around more freely.”

Not only does this extra space benefit the animals, it makes it less demanding for people to access the animals and pet and play with them in a friendly way.

“They have a great time being here, seeing the animals, getting to interact with them,” Schuman said

Connection with nature is something all people should have, it has many benefits, he said.

Photo by Nolan Lyle

“I think it’s also good for kids to be interacting with animals,” Schuman said. “It helps them build empathy and compassion.”

At ABAR the animals get to interact with children. This results in children learning to care for something else, which helps them grow more compassionate and kinder. The family aspect of ABAR is what helps make all their work worth it for the Murphys, seeing everyone connect and be comforted by the animals.

“It’s brought me and my girls a lot closer together having this time, to come up here whenever we have a chance to and helping out,” Schuman said.

ABAR volunteers strive to help as many animals as they can, while also making sure each animal has a healthy environment.

“How can we make this happen without taking anything away from the animals we already have?” Schuman said. “Sheila and Micheal have really gone above and beyond in trying to make that happen.”

ABAR does a lot of work with people with mental health issues. Counselors sometimes bring their family clients and individuals in therapy to visit the animals and go through a process of healing through the interaction.

“What we’ve noticed because it is very calm and quiet, just having people come and be with the animals is the thing they need to ground them,” Sheila said. “Here, people are able to just come and be and spend time with animals, and that really helps them.”

ABAR also hosts birthdays for kids. These are often emotionally moving experiences for Sheila. One of the first parties in their new location was for a boy in a class for autistic children. The parents invited all the kids in his class to the animal-themed celebration.

“The little boy was running around and having the time of his life,” Sheila recalled. Later, the boy’s parents came up to her and told her it was the best day ever for their child.

“These animals have such a great interaction with children in general, but especially if there’s a child with special needs. They know,” she said.

The animals come up to adults, too, who give the creatures a big hug.

“We’ve had several adults say, ‘I just felt something. A physiological shift in my body from what just happened in this interaction with this animal,’” Sheila said.

The animals themselves are therapy. Sheila said she can see it here every time someone visits, and that’s what’s so special to her.

The Murphys and their volunteers set up awesome events throughout the year to get funding needed to maintain the warm home for the animals. ABAR’s activities include a Valentine’s event, sheep and shamrocks around St. Patrick’s and an Easter outing.

“We try to gear it with an animal and a holiday,” Sheila said.

There are always family friendly activities, snacks, and animals to play with. At each event they have a featured animal they put front and center. In the future, they plan to start movie nights. Spring time holds many exciting things like: animal births, anniversary dates and adoption dates.

Going forward, ABAR’s goal is to continue to maintain itself financially, and someday reach a point for more security. Monthly donations greatly help. “If we had enough monthly donors to where it paid for the feed and medical, that would be huge,” Sheila said.

To help raise funding, Sheila also works with companies to build bonds among employees through leadership events in the property’s shaded grove. The nonprofit also hosts field trips for small groups of students and the volunteers sometimes go to school assemblies to provide lessons about the animals. At these events, Sheila talks about the mental health benefits of spending time with animals.

“Anytime somebody contacts us and says they really want to come but can’t afford it, we 100 percent of the time say either pay what you can or pay nothing,” she said.

Photo by Nolan Lyle

Sheila thinks it’s important for people to gain a positive experience.

“When I was an educator in our city, the one thing that made the difference for kids was experiences,” she said. “So, I never want money to be a barrier to experience.”

Through many challenges of running the nonprofit, it’s always been the Murphys’ goal to help animals and other people. And that is only possible through their dependence on volunteers and the donors.

“It’s been a journey of having faith that you and the universe would kind of come together to support ABAR,” she said. “We have to rely on donations, which is why I’m really careful about not using money for any other things other than the animals. Everything’s volunteer based so when people do donate, they know 100 percent of the money is going directly to the animals.”

Nolan Lyle will be a sophomore at Bellarmine Preparatory School this fall.